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Windows 7 hints and tips

Recover lost files using Previous Versions

Everyone has lost files on the hard disk drive at some point and it is not always the fault of the operating system. Sometimes it is simply human error that is to blame. For example, we might accidentally delete a file in Explorer or overwrite one that we wanted to keep with another one by clicking Save instead of Save As in an application.

Of course, deleted files go to the Recycle Bin, but when it has been emptied the file is really gone and it cannot be found anywhere on the disk. And the Recycle Bin won't help if you have overwriten a file. It can be really frustrating to lose a valuable file, particularly when you have spent a lot of time and effort in creating it.

Windows Previous Versions featureFortunately, Windows 7 has an incredibly useful feature called Previous Versions. It's not new and it was in Vista Business and Ultimate editions. Now though, it's in Windows 7 Home Premium, so this feature is new to most people because it wasn't in Vista Home Premium - the most popular version.

If you have accidentally overwritten a file you just need to right click it in an Explorer window and select Restore Previous Versions in the menu that is displayed. (You can also right click a file, select Properties and then click the Previous Versions tab in the dialog too.)

You'll see a list of the previous versions of the file and if you select one, you can use the Copy button to copy the selected previous version to another folder, the Open button to open the previous version, or the Restore button to replace the current version of the file with the previous version you have selected.

You will see the date and time each version of the file was created, so you can usually tell which one you want if there are several to choose from.

This feature isn't just for individual files and you can use exactly the same technique with folders too. If the contents of a folder has changed, for example, if you have updated files, moved or deleted them, you can right click the folder in an Explorer window and choose Restore Previous Versions. Just select the previous version you want, using the time and date, or just open each one until you find the one you need. You can restore the folder and put it back as it was on the date and time displayed, or copy the files you want out of the previous version. It's a really clever feature and it can be a life saver too.

Previous Versions - a worked example
If you try to use the Previous Versions facility you might be confused because sometimes it doesn't quite work as you might expect, so let's work through an example to give you a better understanding. Start Notepad by selecting Start, All Programs, Accessories, Notepad, and then enter some text. Now save the file in the Documents folder and quit Notepad.

Previous Versions is actually part of System Restore and we need a restore point in order to continue. Windows 7 creates restore points every day and also when you make changes to the system, such as when you install software or use Windows Update. Now you could stop right here and continue this tomorrow when there will be a new restore point stored on disk, but we'll speed things along a bit by creating a restore point right away.

Click Start, right click Computer and select Properties on the menu that is displayed. Click System Protection in the task list on the left and then click the Create button on the System Protection tab of the System Properties dialog. After a bit of disk activity you'll have a restore point and we can continue with our demonstration of Previous Versions.

Open the Documents folder and double click the Notepad file you created earlier. Change the text and then save it. Now suppose that was a really valuable file that you modified accidentally. Can we get the original file back again? Of course we can, just use Previous Versions.

Right click the file in the Documents folder and select Restore Previous Versions in the menu that is displayed. You will see the file listed and you can select it and click the Open button to view the contents. You'll see that it is the original text file. Close the dialog and open the Notepad file in the Documents folder - you'll see it's the new version of the file. So you have both the new file and the previous version.

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